Christmas comes with gifts for all

Friday December 22 2017

Narok River by Kinuthia. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY

Narok River by Kinuthia. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY | NATION 

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Gallery goers are exceptionally well catered for this festive season with a generous helping of mixed exhibitions all over the region.
A visual feast, then, but one that also carries the risk of indigestion.

For in Nairobi alone there are shows at the One-Off (Come on, you Blues), the Circle (there, a crop of newcomers make a classy debut), at Red Hill (where the big guns are firing) and up in Karen, at the Polka Dot — where work of real quality jostles with the wanna-bes in an unashamed bid to attract seasonal shoppers.

And we haven’t even started on Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and the rest of the region...
At the Polka Dot, director Lara Ray has done her best to put like with like so the eye does not get too overwhelmed in this small space, but with 44 pictures on the walls, four laid on a table, numbers of them stuck on shelves and a further 30 or so in the racks it cannot have been easy.

And true to the Christmas tradition in this show – called A Christmas Exhibition and on until mid-January — there is nothing to offend, startle or really give much cause for thought, although there are several works that rise above the anodyne to offer, like welcome gifts, some genuine pleasure.

Among those is a gem of a lazing lion, drawn in black crayon with a sepia wash on nutty brown paper by Sophie Walbeoffe. It is small, precise, almost thrown away with its elegant simplicity yet has something of an Old Master sketch in its pent-up strength.
Nearby are the smaller, fluffier cats of Joni Waite, ink on paper. It was a relief to see them, confirming my view that Waite actually can draw well when she rises to the challenge of setting down something she loves; animal or landscape, she can work with a very deft touch.


There is also a large ladling of Kinuthias, with a couple of broad-brushed landscapes on canvas hanging on the wall and more acrylics on textured paper in the rack below.

Kinuthia takes photographs of scenes that excite him and then works them up in his studio, but with a vitality that makes you think they were painted en plein air.
He handles water and its reflections very well; a point proved here by his views of Narok River and Naivasha Sunset.
Next to his sunset in the rack was a graphite drawing of a woman’s head that was also rather good. I am not a lover of Kinuthia’s portraits, which engineer slickness into his comfort zone, but this one was thoughtful and fresh. I bet the sitter loved it.

Next to the Kinuthias hung a couple of landscapes by one of his admirers, Coster Ojwang’; acceptable but still some way to go. They were solid enough but tight and rather restrained where Kinuthia’s were loose and wristy; a developing talent worth following, however.

Magnolias by Bron Hutchinson. PHOTO | FRANK

Magnolias by Bron Hutchinson. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY | NATION

Another artist using models was Elias Mung’ora who, in paintings that preceded his acidulous mixed media commentary on politicians, currently to be seen at the Circle, shows his skill at setting a figure within a limited tonal range.

Abdul,Maggie the Model and Anshee are big paintings too, at 140cm by 180cm apiece, and each would command a wall to themselves.

Also with its accurate drawing sustained over a large canvas is Moira Earnshaw’s oil sketch of lionesses at a waterhole, making a welcome return to this gallery, while nearby was a group of meticulous flower studies — magnolias and roses— by Bron Hutchinson that reminded me, oddly, both of Henri Fantin-Latour for their freshness and Vladimir Tretchikoff (he of Chinese Girl, the lady with the green face) for their super-realist detail. I peered at them hoping to see a trademark drop of water recorded as finely as in Tretchikoff’s Lost Orchid. But there was none.

At the other end of the gallery is a vivid Seated Nude by Anne Mwiti, Expressionist in its bright yellow colour scheme and slashing brushwork while nearer the flowers are some more Expressionist nudes, this time by Nadia Kisseleva.

On the table are four framed linocuts by one Rainer Leimeroth, a German painter and printmaker now based in Malindi and if Walbeoff’s lion reminded me a little of Rembrandt, these recalled Old Master woodcuts with their dense inking and confident lines. Again rather oddly, they also reminded me of those prints of bewigged sea captains and exotic maidens that illustrated old travel books. Leimeroth with his retro tastes is clearly a find.
So, a small sampling of gifts found beneath the tree with many more yet to unwrap.
A very Merry Christmas to you all!